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March 15, 2013
By , waukesha, WI
Complaining is a human nature. We all complain about things we want, things we need, or things that others have, that we don't. When the iPhones came out, everyone had to have one. It didn't matter if you already had a cell phone or not, you just had to have an iPhone. And then the next generation came out. And then the third, and fourth, and eventually even fifth. All that mattered was that you had the newest and grandest one. No one wants to settle for second best, they want the best.

My mom's a health nut, so all she ever buys are healthy foods that aren't exactly high on my list of preferred groceries. Back when she was working, my dad did the shopping, and he didn't really look at the nutrition information on the packaging, he just bought what looked good. So it was a drastic change when my mom quit her job to stay home with us and my dad started his own business. She replaced the goldfish and potato chips in our cabinets with peanuts, and pretzels. Chocolate milk was replaced with skim, and oatmeal took the place of sugary cereals. Things like cookies and cakes and pop-tarts were suddenly unheard of in our house, which was a huge turn considering that's all that we were known to buy.

For months, we complained. We kept going on about how all the other kids could eat Cheez-its for an after-school snack, how all my friends got a nice little dessert in their lunch at school, and all I got were apple slices. My siblings and I were furious when our dinosaur-chicken nugget lunches were swiped with turkey sandwiches on whole wheat bread. We could say goodbye to a pile of potato chips on the side of our plate.

It took a while for me to see past the lack of the food that I wanted, to finally see the pantry full of the food that I needed.

It was a warm Saturday morning, the type of morning I'd sleep until 10am, and I was woken at the early hours of seven o' clock. And I wasn't happy about it.

Today my church would be heading out to Milwaukee for a program called City on a Hill, a program dedicated in helping less fortunate people who lived in Milwaukee, giving them something free to do and something free to eat on a Saturday afternoon. Unfortunately, I had forgotten about this engagement, since I had signed up to help months ago, and I wasn't informed that was how I'd be spending my Saturday until 7:05 that morning.

I spent quite a few minutes quarrelling with my dad about going, throwing valid arguments about needing to do chores, having a prior commitment, sputtering white lies as I tried to avoid going into the roots of Milwaukee, wanting rather to spend the weekend sleeping, curled up in my fluffy comforters with nothing but me and a good book to read.

Finally, he caved and gave up disagreeing with me. But he pulled the Mom card.

And so I found myself on the phone with my mother, who was off in Michigan somewhere, probably lying in a luxurious hotel bed, sporting a cucumber mask, as she flipped through the channels of the large flat-screen TV.

"But Mom. No one I know is even going, and it's too hot to be outside all day."

"I don't care Abby, you said you'd help, so you're going to be there, smiling, and at least pretending your happy to be there." I could just see her holding her phone to ear with her shoulder, as she used one hand to operate the remote, and the other to flip through the pages in her scrapbook magazine.

"Yes, but-"

"No buts! You're going, and that's final. See you Sunday." And with that, she left me to listen to the dial tone after she hung up.

That was how I found myself spending a perfectly good Saturday in Milwaukee, volunteering for needy families.

I spent the first half of the experience writing nametags, attempting to understand some of the deep city accents and spelling their names right. Eventually I started handing the marker to them and having them write their own name, giving up in my tries to understand them.
After that, I walked around, helping anyone that needed a hand, pouring water for volunteers, and smiling as little kids ran around my legs. I was right when I said not many people I knew were going to volunteer with me, but I was somewhat friends with some of the few teenagers who did, so I chatted with them in-between helping the other volunteers.

As the hours passed, the day got hotter, and the demand for water grew with every passing minute spent under the boiling sun. Lines formed in front of the water jug, and we even ran out of cups once or twice, needing to run back to the building the program held their supplies in so we didn't have a riot with the lack of cold beverages.

Halfway into the afternoon, and one of the leaders of the program asked for two volunteers to help her with a special job. At this point in the day, I was bored out of my mind, just counting down the seconds until I could go back home and get back to my cozy bed, and bookmarked book. So I rose my hand, along with an older boy I didn't recognize.

We followed the lady to her car, and she unlocked the doors, climbing in the driver seat, then gesturing for us to get in. We hastily followed and she drove us back to the supply building, but this time she drove around to the other side, bringing us to a closed door that was padlocked shut. She fished a key out of her pocket, and stuck it in the padlock, before opening the door and letting us in. It was nice and cool inside, refreshing compared to the blistering heat just beyond the doorway.

The lady lead us to the back of the building, where a long counter and a refrigerator were sitting. She pulled some food from the fridge, a box of bags of chips from beneath the counter, and a cart of juice boxes from a closet-like pantry.

"I need you to make some bag lunches."

I nodded, not asking why, and set to making the sandwiches. She lead the boy to another room, and I was suddenly left in the big room by myself, with nothing but the cold fruit to keep me company.

I had made at least a hundred lunches by the time they came back in the room, carrying bins full of things like napkins and healthy snacks, and bins full of little toys you'd probably find in a fast food kid's meal.

The lady-hands full with the bins- motioned her head towards the door, and I grabbed the bin full of paper bag lunches that I had made, and scurried out after them . The heavy doors shut behind me, and we all crammed into the small silver car, sharing the small space with the bins. The drive back was short, but it was filled with an awkward silence that seemed to stretch on forever.
When we parked, she lead me away from the rest of the kids, who were going ballistic for the snacks and free toys. We climbed a small hill, me lugging the bin of lunches and sweating from the work ad heat.
At the top, were three children.

Two almost identical boys, tall and lanky, thin at the wrists and wearing clothes that were clearly two sizes too big. They stood when they saw us approach, obviously content in sitting and playing with the blades of grass. It was evident they were brothers, possibly twins, and the third child, a girl with pink ribbons in her hair, hid behind them slightly, using their arms as a shield, as if we brought harm. I couldn't help but notice the way they hid her, as if she was a treasure.

Which fit, considering her nametag stated that her name was Diamond. The boys weren't wearing nametags, as if their main priority was letting everyone know who their sister was.

"Hello Diamond." The volunteer lady greeted, kneeling down so she was eye to eye with the little girl. The boys stepped aside now, realizing that there was no threat with us. "This is my friend…" she paused, looking back and taking a quick glance at my nametag. "Abby."

I gave a little wave, suddenly nervous. Why was I nervous? It's not like I would see these kids ever again.

"Tell me," the volunteer started in a soft tone, "when was the last time you guys had a meal?"

One of the little boys stepped closer to the woman, and gave her a forced-but brave- smile. "Last night ma'am, we shared an apple."

It was then that I just how skinny they were. Their arms were like twigs, and their legs were like sticks, ready to break under their weight. Their bellies were swollen from the lack of nutrients and food, and they were barely hidden by the thin scraps of clothing that hung on their limbs in tatters. It occurred to me, that the little girl wanted to wear her best for our meeting. So she put two pink ribbons in her hair. They weren't beautiful, or perfect in any way, but they were the nicest things she owned I'm sure, and they must have been a treasure for her. It appeared she was wearing boys hand-me-downs.

The volunteer turned to look at me, and I took it as my cue to grab three of the bag lunches I had made, and hand them to them.

They opened the bag slowly and looked inside, as if afraid of what might be the contents, before a surprised expression flitted across their features. The girl reached an arm inside her bag and pulled out the sandwich, looking like she just opened a gift at Christmas. It was only a sandwich, but it still made her day. Her smile doubled as she saw the chips and apple.

Their reactions surprised me. I was used to getting this everyday at lunch, seeing the same thing, and yet I still complained that it wasn't enough? I whined about not getting a dessert, when some kids, kids like these, would kill to have even just a sandwich.

"Thank you ma'am," one of the boys mumbles through a mouth full of food. The volunteer gives a nod, smiling down at the kids, before heading down the hill to find other kids who need a meal. I follow her slowly, glancing back once before stumbling down the hill as well.

"Thanks Mom," I leaned over and kissed my mom on the cheek, before running out the door, hoping to catch the bus.

My Mom has gotten up almost every morning now to pack me a lunch, and I'm thankful for her giving me a nutritious meal, instead of buying pizza in the lunch line. It may be my favorite, but I've realized that the school cafeteria's greasy pizza wasn't exactly high on the healthy foods list.

In my lunch box, was a sandwich, apple, and yogurt. There were no chips and no Cheez-its. Just a healthy meal that will keep me healthy.
I'm even thankful enough to say that there was no dessert.

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